Blogging the Bookshelf

Blogging my bookshelf – one book at a time

Blogging the Bookshelf header image 2

Testicular Transplants, Whilst Odd, Did Not Contribute to the Spread of AIDS – “The Origins of AIDS”  – Jacques Pepin

January 12th, 2012 · No Comments · Mental Illness, Science

Over the next two years, Voronoff performed twelve testicular transplants, from chimpanzee to man. It was not possible at the time to perform microvascular surgery, and Voronoff thought he could avoid the necrosis of the transplanted organ by actually grafting thin slices, with the assumption that small new blood vessels would form to re-vascularise the organ. That was very optimistic. Furthermore, nobody at the time had any understanding of the immunological rejection of a transplanted organ, presumably very severe when that organ was not of human origin.

Even if Voronoff might have had sincere scientific aims initially, he quickly realised the immense commercial potential of the procedure. Here was a renowned surgeon, holding a chair at the Collège de France, who had invented a procedure that could act not only as a surgical Viagra but prolong life and enhance quality of life for decades. Many rich and old men were willing to pay a fortune for a shot at eternal youth. Voronoff even travelled to India in 1929 to perform a testicular transplant on a maharajah. Although some of his fortune may have been inherited from his second wife, Voronoff certainly made a lot of money out of this surgical adventure, allowing him to spend the last three decades of his life in a fancy villa on the Italian Riviera, where he had set up a chimpanzee breeding colony, probably as a public relations ploy.
Such a lucrative business interested colleagues in France and overseas, and Voronoff‘s biographer estimated that about 2,000 testicular transplants were performed in Paris, Bordeaux, Nice, Lille, Alger, London, Rome, Turin, Milan, Genoa, Vienna, Madrid, Lisbon, Porto, Berlin, Alexandria, Constantinople, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Valparaiso, Rio and even in Hanoi. Voronoff himself claimed to have performed 475 transplants. Eventually, the procedure was completely discredited for a number of reasons, including the fact that Voronoff had started performing ovarian transplants (inserting a chimpanzee ovary into a woman and vice versa), which raised extremely serious ethical concerns (could one of these females become pregnant with a half-chimp, half-human baby?). Voronoff became the butt of popular humour in France and abroad. He died in 1951, aged eighty-five.

OK, I’m willing to concede that the history of science may well be even stranger than the history of politics…

Tags: ···

No Comments so far ↓

Like gas stations in rural Texas after 10 pm, comments are closed.